One For The Record Books

We here at Road Dirt absolutely love following the annual Dakar Rally-Raid. It is truly the most incredible motorcycle race on the planet. Crossing inhospitable, otherworldly, vast open landscapes, just finishing the grueling odyssey is an achievement in and of itself. From intense heat to freezing nights, dry desert dunes to drenching downpours, those who undertake this grueling contest are another level of courage or crazy.

Dakar Rally 2023. Simply the most incredible race on earth. Photo ASO/F.Gooden/DPPI.

The 45th edition of the Dakar Rally came to an end in Dammam, Saudi Arabia over the weekend, after 14 stages that saw dramatic turnarounds in every category, particularly in the Motorbike class. In a first for the category, Argentinian and 2021 champion Kevin Benavides seized the lead on the very last day, knocking Australian and two-time champion Toby Price from the top of the general standings to prevail by 43 seconds, the narrowest winning margin ever in the history of the Dakar. That came after setting a Stage 13 record of only 12 seconds separating Price and Benavides the day before. American Skyler Howes claimed the final podium spot to round out the Motorbike class in the 2023 Dakar Rally-Raid.

KTM’s Kevin Benavides charging to his second Dakar win. Photo ASO/H. Cabilla.

Never before had a rider lost the lead of the Dakar in the last stage. And never before had the winner and the runner-up been so evenly matched. An unprecedented scenario that came on the back of another historic first, namely, the mere 12 seconds separating KTM’s Toby Price and Kevin Benavides on the eve of the finale. The longest Dakar held in Saudi Arabia came down to a sprint, an exercise that both former enduro riders excel in. Price kicked off the 45th Dakar Rally by winning the prologue before flying under the radar near the front of the race, like the Argentinian, who only came out of the woods to win stage 13 and swoop down on the Australian. The finish was like a hurdling contest in which every checkpoint was a hurdle.

Toby Price leading Stage 13, before losing to Benavides the next day. Photo ASO/E. Vargiolu/DPPI.

In his own words, Price lost the Dakar by “stumbling twice”. Benavides confessed that he had to backtrack once to validate a waypoint, but Price did it three times. At the finish, the Argentinian joined the club of two-time Dakar winners (2021 and 2023), 43 seconds ahead of his new peer (2016 and 2019). He joined the ranks of Auriol, Rahier, Meoni, Sunderland and Price himself. Finishing 100th last year due to a broken engine, Benavides, signed by KTM after his success with Honda, put an end to three years in which the Dakar was painted Honda red. After two victories for Honda and one for GasGas last year, the KTM orange retook the throne with its nineteenth victory. Skyler Howes, who rides for their sister team Husqvarna, stood with them on the podium, although he deserved so much more in his fifth Dakar. The American wore the leader’s mantle for six days before falling out of top contention, but he was pumped and proud to climb onto the podium for the first time —the fifth for an American racer.

American Skyler Howes throttling through the dunes to eventually claim his first podium appearance in the Dakar Rally. Photo ASO/E. Vargiolu/DPPI.

“This morning, my head was empty except for each kilometer of the stage, from 0 to 136,” Benavides stated. “It’s incredible to pull off the win at the end of this completely crazy Dakar and with such a small gap. I’m also the first to win with two different motorbike brands, and that makes me very proud.”

Kevin Benavides etching in his win at the close of Stage 14. Photo ASO/G. Soldano.

The race ended prematurely for half of last year’s top 10. Sam Sunderland, the 2022 defending champion, called it quits in stage 1. The next day, it was Brabec who also fell, followed by Barreda in stage 8. Mason Klein, the top rookie last year in ninth place who had seized the lead in stage 2 of this Dakar, threw in the towel in stage 13, while Walkner, on the podium last year, crashed on the eve of the finish. Three other works riders found themselves on the receiving end of the Dakar’s ruthlessness. Hero’s Joaquim Rodrigues and Sherco’s Harith Noah were added to the casualty list in stage 4. The Indian’s teammate, Rui Gonçalves, retired in stage 6. In this war of attrition, Honda placed three of its four factory riders in the top 10. Quintanilla finished just outside the podium ahead of Van Beveren, while Cornejo was eighth. Luciano Benavides (HVA), the most prolific stage hunter of this rally with three, came in sixth. Daniel Sanders, who again lit up the start of the race before his physical condition took its toll, was seventh. Lorenzo Santolino, eleventh last year, patiently played for time on his Sherco to move up to ninth and retake his place in the top 10 after 2021 (sixth). Franco Caimi (Hero) rounded it the first ten, ensuring that all six factory teams in the 45th edition are represented near the top.

Price, Benavides, and Howes atop the 2023 Champions Podium later that night. Photo ASO/J. Delfosse/DPPI.

235 of the 355 vehicles that started the 2023 Dakar have made it to the finish: 80 motorcycles (out of 121), 10 quads (18), 46 T1 and T2 cars (67), 38 lightweight prototypes (47), 39 SSVs (45) and all 22 trucks, along with 80 out of 88 crews in the third edition of the Dakar Classic, the regularity race for 20th-century vehicles.

What an epic two weeks of racing. The Dakar Rally-Raid is indeed the pinnacle of off-road endurance racing, motorcycle and otherwise. Huge congratulations to Kevin Benavides for his come-from-behind victory, Toby Price for his herculean effort for second, and to the young, mustachioed Skyler Howes for his first-ever Dakar podium.

For more on this year’s Dakar Rally, including incredible photos and aerial footage, click here:

Dakar Rally 2023

*All photos by Dakar Rally and ASO.
*Information by Dakar Rally.

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